- Birthday, Books, Quotes, Reading, Writing

Franz Kafka on Life, Death, Writing, Books, and More.

 

Happy birthday, Franz Kafka! Here are some quotes from the writer:

 

“I usually solve problems by letting them devour me.”

 

“Oh, plenty of hope, an infinite amount of hope—but not for us.”

 

“A first sign of the beginning of understanding is the wish to die.”

 

“Life calls again. It is entirely conceivable that life’s splendor forever lies in wait about each one of us in all its fullness, but veiled from view, deep down, invisible, far off. It is there, though, not hostile, not reluctant, not deaf. If you summon it by the right word, by its right name, it will come. This is the essence of magic, which does not create but summons.”

 

“A non-writing writer is, in fact, a monster courting insanity.”

 

“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for?”

 

“But we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.”

 

“I cannot make you understand. I cannot make anyone understand what is happening inside me. I cannot even explain it to myself.”

 

“A belief is like a guillotine, just as heavy, just as light.”

 

“I can prove at any time that my education tried to make another person out of me than the one I became.”

 

“I have hardly anything in common with myself and should stand very quietly in a corner, content that I can breathe.”

 

“In the fight between you and the world, back the world.”

 

“You can hold yourself back from the sufferings of the world, that is something you are free to do and it accords with your nature, but perhaps this very holding back is the one suffering you could avoid.”

 

“One must not cheat anyone, not even the world of its victory.”

 

“The whole visible world is perhaps nothing more than than the rationalization of a man who wants to find peace for a moment. An attempt to falsify the actuality of knowledge, to regard knowledge as a goal still to be reached.”

 

“One can disintegrate the world by means of very strong light. For weak eyes the world becomes solid, for still weaker eyes it seems to develop fists, for eyes weaker still it becomes shamefaced and smashes anyone who dares to gaze upon it.”

 

“To fight against this lack of understanding, against a whole world of non-understanding, was impossible.”

 

“We are as forlorn as children lost in the woods. When you stand in front of me and look at me, what do you know of the griefs that are in me and what do I know of yours? And if I were to cast myself down before you and weep and tell you, what more would you know about me than you know about Hell when someone tells you it is hot and dreadful? For that reason alone we human beings ought to stand before one another as reverently, as reflectively, as lovingly, as we would before the entrance to Hell.”

 

“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”

 

“‘Don’t you want to join us?’ I was recently asked by an acquaintance when he ran across me alone after midnight in a coffeehouse that was already almost deserted. ‘No, I don’t,’ I said.”

 

“A cage went in search of a bird.”

 

“They’re talking about things of which they don’t have the slightest understanding, anyway. It’s only because of their stupidity that they’re able to be so sure of themselves.”

 

“How about if I sleep a little bit longer and forget all this nonsense.”

 

“Logic may indeed be unshakeable, but it cannot withstand a person who is determined to live.”

 

“Now the Sirens have a still more fatal weapon than their song, namely their silence…Someone might possibly have escaped from their singing; but from their silence, certainly never.”

 

“What a fate: to be condemned to work for a firm where the slightest negligence at once gave rise to the gravest suspicion! Were all the employees nothing but a bunch of scoundrels, was there not among them one single loyal devoted man who, had he wasted only an hour or so of the firm’s time in the morning, was so tormented by conscience as to be driven out of his mind and actually incapable of leaving his bed?”

 

“The true way is along a rope that is not spanned high in the air, but only just above the ground. It seems intended more to cause stumbling than to be walked upon.”

 

“All human errors are impatience, the premature breaking off of what is methodical, an apparent fencing in of the apparent thing.”

 

“There are two main human sins from which all the others derive: impatience and indolence. It was because of impatience that they were expelled from Paradise; it is because of indolence that they do not return. Yet perhaps there is only one major sin: impatience. Because of impatience they were expelled, because of impatience they do not return.”

 

“From a certain point onward there is no longer any turning back. That is the point that must be reached.”

 

“The decisive moment in human evolution is perpetual. That is why the revolutionary spiritual movements that declare all former things worthless are in the right, for nothing has yet happened.”

 

“To animalize is humane, to humanize is animal.”

 

“One of the first signs of the beginnings of understanding is the wish to die. This life appears unbearable, another unattainable. One is no longer ashamed of wanting to die; one asks to be moved from the old cell, which one hates, to a new one, which one will only in time come to hate.”

 

“Anyone who cannot come to terms with his life while he is alive needs one hand to ward off a little his despair over his fate—he has little success in this—but with his other hand he can note down what he sees among the ruins, for he sees different (and more) things than do the others; after all, dead as he is in his own lifetime, he is the real survivor. This assumes that he does not need both hands, or more hands than he has, in his struggle against despair.”

 

“When one has once accepted and absorbed Evil, it no longer demands to be believed.”

 

“The animal wrests the whip from its master and whips itself in order to become master, not knowing that this is only a fantasy produced by a new knot in the master’s whiplash.”

 

“Self-control is something for which I do not strive. Self-control means wanting to be effective at some random point in the infinite radiations of my spiritual existence.”

 

“His exhaustion is that of the gladiator after the fight, his work was the whitewashing of one corner in a clerk’s office.”

 

“Previously I did not understand why I got no answer to my question; today I do not understand how I could believe I was capable of asking. But I didn’t really believe, I only asked.”

 

“The way is infinitely long, nothing of it can be subtracted, nothing can be added, and yet everyone applies his own childish yardstick to it.“

 

“Believing in progress does not mean believing that any progress has yet been made. That is not the sort of belief that indicates real faith.”

 

“Man cannot live without a permanent trust in something indestructible in himself, though both the indestructible element and the trust may remain permanently hidden from him.

 

“The mediation by the serpent was necessary: Evil can seduce man, but cannot become man.”

 

“Theoretically there is a perfect possibility of happiness: believing in the indestructible element in oneself and not striving towards it.”

 

“The indestructible is one: it is each individual human being and, at the same time, it is common to all, hence the incomparably indivisible union that exists between human beings.”

 

“Test yourself on people. It is something that makes the doubter doubt, the believer believe.”

 

“Association with human beings lures one into self-observation.”

 

“Sensual love deceives one as to the nature of heavenly love; it could not do so alone, but since it unconsciously has the element of heavenly love within it, it can do so.”

 

“Truth is indivisible, hence it cannot recognize itself; anyone who wants to recognize it has to be a lie.”

 

“Two possibilities: making oneself infinitely small or being so. The second is perfection, that is to say, inactivity, the first is beginning, that is to say, action.”

 

“Towards the avoidance of a piece of verbal confusion: What is intended to be actively destroyed must first of all have been firmly grasped; what crumbles away crumbles away, but cannot be destroyed.”

 

“I dream of a grave, deep and narrow, where we we embrace as if clamped together, and I would bury my face in you and you would bury your face in me, and nobody would ever see us any more.”

 

“If a person has their eyes bound, you can encourage them as much as you like to stare through the bandage, but they’ll never see anything.”

 

“The Messiah will come only when he is no longer necessary; he will come only on the day after his arrival; he will come, not on the last day, but on the very last day.”

 

“But even the truth of longing is not so much its own truth; it’s really an expression of everything else, which is a lie. This sounds crazy and distorted, but it’s true.

Moreover, perhaps it isn’t love when I say you are what I love the most—you are the knife I turn inside myself, with which I explore myself.”

 

“Anyone who believes cannot experience miracles. By day one cannot see any stars. Anyone who does miracles says: I cannot let go of the earth.”

 

“Religions get lost as people do.”

 

“Idleness is the beginning of all vice, the crown of all virtues.

 

John Madera's fiction may be found in Conjunctions, Opium Magazine, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His criticism may be found in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, John Madera lives in New York City, where he runs Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.

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